How to Hire a Virtual Assistant in the Philippines
Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) is one of the most important hires that you can make as an entrepreneur. Without help, you will continue to waste valuable time and energy on activities that don’t actually contribute to the growth of your online business. However, when you’re starting out, hiring a person for $30 to $50 an hour might be hard for your business to leverage.
Jen Lehner is a digital marketing and systems strategist. She founded her own marketing agency and is the creator of the Front Row Mastermind. More recently, she started to help solopreneurs and entrepreneurs avoid the overwhelm of running a business by hiring a VA from the Philippines. Here, she talks about the hiring system she created when vetting VA’s, and how they can grow with your business and become an essential part of it.
The Front Row Mindset
Jen’s story starts with her extraordinary mindset, which becomes evident when looking at the name of her podcast: Front Row. “It’s more than a marketing title. It’s really my philosophy in life. In college, I always used to sit in the front row. Life is too short to take a back seat. When you’re in the front row, you literally hear better. You see better, you are more visible. It’s a way of saying: I’m all in, I can’t escape out of the back door.”
With this mindset, Jen was able to interview some big names on her podcast. “It started when I was listening to James Altucher interviewing Gary Vaynerchuk on his podcast, and Gary said out of the blue: If someone creates a podcast right now and posts two episodes and hashtags Gary and James, we’ll come on your podcast.” It was a Sunday, Jen was walking her dog, and she thought: “Dammit. I knew I was going to have to do this.”
Jen created two podcast episodes from scratch. “I uploaded the episodes. I tweeted like crazy, and ended up getting James on the show. To get Gary, I tweeted the clip from the original episode, saying: James kept his word. Now it’s your turn, right?” Jen immediately got contacted by Gary’s assistant and scheduled an episode.
“Once you land a couple of big fish, it makes it much easier to get the bigger names,” Jen says. She even had Seth Godin on her show. “This is the front row mindset again. I thought, why not? Seth had declined my invitation a few times, but I kept trying. And eventually, he came and even ended up writing an article about the topic of our talk.”
Getting Into Business
The front row mindset goes like a thread through Jen’s life. When she noticed a small pie shop in her town that didn’t have any customers, she decided to help. “It was a brand new pie shop, it was so cute, but no one was ever in there, probably because they didn’t have any parking. I was in the shower and remember thinking: I know what I’ll do, I’ll do a cash mob.”
A cash mob is similar to a flash mob. It’s orchestrated behind the scenes and a group of people show up at a local business and flood it with cash by buying things. “The shop ended up having lines out of the door for three hours. I ended up trademarking the format, calling it flash cashers. It was a nonprofit and meant to help local businesses. People could vote on the business and we would show up and surprise them.”
During this time, Jen realized that many of these local businesses weren’t doing any marketing. “I saw that they had so much potential, so I chose one of them and proposed to do all the marketing for them. I said: Give me free rein and let me do what I want. You don’t have to pay me, but if you like it, you recommend me to your business friends. They agreed, and loved what I did. And that was it – I was fully booked with local consulting jobs after that.”
Jen ended up having too many clients, and decided to shift to an online business model creating courses and a membership site. “That’s when the game changed for me.”
Why Hiring Help Brings a Business Forward
At some point, she hit a ceiling. “I felt that I just couldn’t fulfill my potential because there was only one of me.” That’s when she decided to hire a virtual assistant from the Philippines. Jen had lived in the Philippines for three years and got to know the culture there. “They really value education and their level of English is very good. I found that I was getting more qualified applicants from there.”
Over time, she saw that other solopreneurs and entrepreneurs were struggling with the same things she had. “They had these great ideas for starting their business, but then got caught up with marketing, admin tasks and taxes. All these things have nothing to do with that thing they started their business for, and it can be soul crushing for a lot of entrepreneurs. They need help with these tasks, but a lot of people feel that they have to reach a certain amount of revenue before they can justify hiring help. Then they never reach that amount, because they don’t have any help.”
Jen transformed her business and started helping business owners find the right virtual assistant, focusing on candidates from the Philippines.
The Vetting System
A lot of entrepreneurs starting out can’t afford to hire a virtual assistant at $25 or $50 an hour. “Hiring someone in the Philippines is a different story. Some people bristle at the notion of paying someone $4.50 an hour. But let’s consider a few things: What’s $4.50 an hour here isn’t $4.50 an hour there. In my case, my VA was asking for this rate, I didn’t offer it. And besides the hourly rate, there are other ways to reward your VA. Ideally, you want the VA to grow with you and become a person deeply invested in your business, who will stay with you for years.”
This became Jen’s goal when she started vetting potential VA candidates. “You can’t just go on Upwork, look for a person from the Philippines and run with it. You definitely have to vet people along the way.”
Jen makes them fill out an application through Google, transferring their responses to a Google sheet where she can read them all at one glance. “Many don’t fill out the application correctly, so they automatically get eliminated. Those who filled it out correctly go on to do a test task. If they do the assignment correctly, I know that they have the skills that are needed.” By this point, the group of candidates who qualify for the next step, a Skype interview, has grown much smaller.
What follows is a one week trial period. “At the end of this week, you can be pretty certain that this is the right person for you, because they have gone through all those steps. I let the candidates suggest what they want to get paid, and usually it’s between $3 and $4 an hour. People will ask for even less, but I don’t recommend paying less than $4 an hour. After say 30 days, you evaluate them and start giving small raises. Another great way to reward them is by figuring out a benchmark for your next launch and let them know that if you get 20 people into your new program, they’re going to get 5% of the gross from that or a $100 bonus.”
The point is to treat the VA as if they were in the office right next to you. “My wish for every entrepreneur is that they find someone who will stay with them for years and who will grow with them. It’s a game changer when you know that someone’s got your back.”
Hiring a VA from the Philippines can come with a certain stigma. Why not hire someone locally? “I also work with VA’s in the United States. There are some things, for example copywriting, where you need someone who expresses themselves in the same way as you. A copywriter in the Philippines is probably not going to write the kind of copy you need.”
However, with the right system in place, certain tasks can easily be delegated to a person with a different background. “I would love to employ the person down the street who charges $100 an hour for basic admin work. But someone with a small business can simply not leverage that. If I wasn’t paying a fair living wage or if I was taking advantage or think that what I do would somehow exploit people, that would be one thing, but I don’t. In fact, I’m doing quite the opposite.”
Jen’s VA is continually increasing her skillset and expertise. “I bought her a Pinterest course so she could learn it and I didn’t have to. Now, she gets to execute it, and she’s proud because it’s hers. She has a sense of ownership. At the same time, she is evolving and growing with my business.”
Jen says that hiring a team is a big part of the front row mindset. “You’re not going to be in the front row unless you have a team that backs you up and allows you to be in the front row.”
Connect with Jen Lehner:
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